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Neighborhood Spotlight: The podiatrists behind Silver Lake’s Happy Foot/Sad Foot sign

Mar 15, 2017

Thomas Lim (upper left) & Schlomo Schmuel | Courtesy Foot Care Clinic

By BARRY LANK

SILVER LAKE — How do local legends begin? You take a simple, revolving sign for a podiatry clinic along Sunset Boulevard. On one side, a cartoon drawing of a smiling foot, arms outstretched, loving life. On the other side, a sad foot – damaged, propped on crutches, with bandages around the big toe.

A little game has grown around this sign over the last few years: If you see the happy foot first as you drive by, it’s good luck. Opposite side? Opposite luck. This comes to us from, among other sources, Atlas Obscura, which also notes the sign, which twirls above the northwest corner of Sunset and Benton Way, has appeared in novels by Jonathan Lethem and David Foster Wallace, and was the subject of a song by the Eels.

So what do the podiatrists in charge of the clinic make of all this? Doctors Thomas Lim and Schlomo Schmuel run the Sunset Foot Clinic, as well as several satellite offices throughout the L.A. basin. Dr. Lim answered a few of our questions about their podiatry work and and their unexpected place in the zeitgeist. But since the sign seems to predate both of the supervising doctors, Dr. Lim is quick to tell us he doesn’t have all the answers.

How long has the clinic been on Sunset? How long has the sign been there?
The clinic has been here since the early ’80’s, I believe. The sign has been there since the early ’80’s as well, I believe. I can’t get a straight answer myself.

What is the source of the sign? Local legend is that it was drawn by a doctor’s child.
No comment. Possible, yes. Likely, maybe. Legend, only if the answer is never certain.

When – and how – did you become aware that your sign was gaining cultural status? What was your reaction?
We have patients come in and say that they grew up seeing the sign. When they eventually had a medical problem regarding their feet and ankles, we were on the top of their list. This happened enough times that I eventually Googled our Happy Foot/Sad Foot sign. My reaction … nice, we’re trending …

What’s the most common foot problem you see at this clinic location?
Most people come in for heel pain and ankle injuries. Oh, yes, we also do a lot of ingrown toenails, so that bandage on Sad Foot’s big toe is quite accurate.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen at the clinic?
I think one night a group of people from Hafo Safo Chorus were singing under the sign …

If you could give any advice to Silver Lake residents about their feet, what would it be?
As Robert Crumb said (and illustrated), “Keep on truckin’” Stay healthy, stay active, take care of your tired feet. And if you have any foot and ankle problems, come see the doctors behind the legendary, prophetic, happy foot/sad foot sign.

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